Alice Neel was born in Merion Square, Pennsylvania in 1900. She attended the Philadelphia School of Design for Women (later known as the Moore College of Art) in 1921 and in 1924 she attended the Chester Springs Summer School at the Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1925. She married Cuban artist, Carlos Enriquez and moved to Havana where she exhibited with Cuban avant-garde artists. Alice and Carlos had two daughters, one of which died of diphtheria. The couple returned to the United States in 1927 and settled in New York City.
In 1930 Neel’s husband returned to Cuba, taking their daughter with him and, as a result, Neel suffered a nervous breakdown and was hospitalized for a time. After her recovery she moved to New York’s Greenwich Village in 1932. She was living with a sailor who was an opium addict and, in an episode of jealous rage, he slashed 60 of her paintings and 300 of her watercolors in 1934. Neel also lived with painter, John Rothschild.
Neel’s career began to take off in the 1930s. She was funded by the Public Works of America Project in 1933 and by the Works Progress Administration from 1935 into the 1940s. During this time, Neel’s style and subjects were a bit unconventional as she painted people that lived in her neighborhood, capturing their pain and humor. She also completed some still lifes, cityscapes and narrative and genre scenes.
During the 1940s and 1950s she did not exhibit much, nor did she take many commissions. She had a major solo exhibition at the ACA Gallery in 1950 and 1954 and in 1951, an exhibition at the New Playwrights Theater.
By the 1960s Neel was receiving more critical and financial support and with the 1970s came a general interest in the women’s movement, which breathed new life into Neels’ career. She was the subject of a retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 1974 and in 1976 she was elected to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Neel had little desire to explore the medium of printmaking. The prints that she did make largely reprise her paintings.